Millennial in Portland


I moved to Portland two years ago, after spending much of my life wishing to live here. I went to high school outside of Grants Pass, and quickly started shifting my way north after graduation.

At 23, I have come to the realization that I have a lot of time on my hands. I have decades ahead of me to plan for. Some predictions say that with advances in technology, it's easy to see much of my generation living well past 100. Hell, my great grandmother made it to 101 living by herself in a cabin down in Wimer, Oregon. That’s a long time, to me, that’s a daunting amount of time to look forward to.


What will it be like?


There’s not a whole lot down in southern Oregon for us anymore. Much of the new economy has ignored rural America, and the mills and logging jobs have become sparse and far between, yet a new generation has come into being with the same needs as the last. Myself, and many others like me have moved with the economy.

Portland doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Our story is not unique, cities are growing all across the globe. Cities are the most conducive and efficient environments for the future of an ever increasing global population and its economic needs, and most major U.S. cities are feeling the pinch as we continue to adjust to this reality. I would argue that of the major cities on the west coast, Portland is the last to really begin feeling it.


Where will we live?


It’s been a long time since its been reasonable for the average person around my age to think too much about home ownership - or long term housing in general. This is emphasized further by the heavy debt that much of us still carry from our college expenses, sometimes well into our 50s. My expectations aren’t high, but when I look around our city, I can’t help but ask myself “where will I be if I’m still here in forty years?” Where will I live?

Portland is not going to stop growing. People are not going to stop moving here. We need to stop fooling ourselves about there being some kind of “bubble” and start understanding that the forces driving growth and development in Portland isn’t Portlandia, doughnuts and big evil developers, but economic and environmental forces that are bigger than all of those things. They are going to keep driving people here well into the future, just like they did me.


What will our stories be?


I went to city council last month to give testimony on the Central City 2035 plan, I didn’t see a lot of people like me there. I pulled back the average age of the room by a few years, but in one way or another, everyone in the council chamber was feeling the pinch. I went to city hall with a few things on my mind; ‘What will this city be for us when we’re still here in forty years? What will our memories be?’ I soon found that others came in with different thoughts; ‘Where has this city been? Will the things we have loved and cherished the most in this city still be there for us in the future?

Many in our community would like to say that these are competing narratives but they shouldn’t be. The idea that they are is rather new, for many my age in the past, the task of finding a place to call home in Portland wasn’t difficult to imagine. Now it seems we’ve run out of room in our built environment but we haven’t run out of us - the people that the growth is for, the people who are looking to build themselves and build up this community in the decades to come just like the ones who came before them did. We have our own unique set of economic and environmental challenges to contend with, and sometimes it feels like those who came before us are trying to be one of them - that’s not how it should be.


What is our future here?


As daunting as it is, I try to imagine what life in Portland will be like in forty years. Sure, there’s a whole world of unpredictability out there, but I still think it’s OK for us to plan it out. What would we do if we get there and realize we didn’t prepare anything?

I see a growing list of challenges that my generation will spend the next several decades managing. We will do it. We will fix many of humanity’s problems and discover many more new ones along the way. We will rise to our challenges, and we will do much of it right here in Portland. Yet everything has been bought up, parceled out, taken, and often going places that aren’t for us. We need new construction to build the future here in Portland, otherwise there will never be anything for us.

We want to build in Portland the things that we will want to see in our city for our entire lifetimes. We want to live in a city that is equitable and that we want to take care of. We want to live in a city where more people can affordably call Portland home from all walks of life.

We need to look to our past for the lessons that will help us build this future. Our past tells us what buildings and lifestyles we have come to love, and what we have come to scorn. The history of Portland in its built environment lays out many different paths for us to move forward with, expanding upon the higher density construction practices that we have loved for decades will help us build the best possible future for the decades to come.

So I want to challenge Portland to imagine itself in forty years, the best possible version of itself, while also taking into consideration many of the difficult challenges we will face between now and then. How will we build for it? More people will be living here then, a lot more. What do we want that to look like? What do we want our lives to be like?

Now we have to plan backwards from there.